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By Sue Flatto

We can all see that the pandemic has accelerated some important working trends. There has been an increase in flexibility in terms of where and when people work. Automation of jobs has been pushed forward on the agenda with technology enabled working catapulted into our lives, and the horizon for robots replacing repetitive tasks and use of AI moving even closer.

At RealService, we have been talking with occupiers and observed that, although people who have been forced to work from home (WFH) by the pandemic have found that technology has enabled them to do that successfully, what is missing is the sociability and serendipity of the office. Companies are grappling with rethinking what the office is for. The working models based around most people spending most of their time office based has been shattered and forward thinking employers are going back to the drawing board and building a new model.

Whilst we are still in the midst of the pandemic, it is easy to look at the empty office space and conclude that people want to stay at home to work, and some studies, such as Leesman, show that people think they are more productive and are happy working from home. However, Professor Lynda Gratton, of London Business School points out that there are gaps that employers need to recognise and factor in.  The office also provides opportunity for socialising, networking and creativity. These things are very difficult to do remotely. Bruce Daisley, author of The Joy of Work, and Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat, agrees that there are gaps that need to be filled when people are all at home, only meeting on Zoom. Those random, chance conversations after face to face meetings and informal brainstorms are valuable to organisations. As this plays out, companies are likely to find that they are missing these vital aspects of working life.

Research done during the Covid crisis says that, not only have people enjoyed working from home but, without the daily commute, they have been able to spend more time with their families and more time working. However, Lynda Gratton suggests that this has come at a price. Some feel isolated and unconnected and many are missing out on chance conversations and random meetings and connections which spawn creativity. It is essential to take on board that employees have their own, individual, experience of WFH and to understand what they are. No two WFH experiences are the same and so no single answer will suit everyone.

Bruce Daisley believes that the ‘Hotelification’ of office space will become the norm with companies forming team hubs that meet in the workspace together at pre agreed times. One thing we can all agree on is that to entice people back, the experience of being in the office needs to be better than being at home.

Another point that needs to be taken into account is ‘Zoom fatigue’. There is a limit to how much the brain can absorb, using this medium. We all need a social break now and again and some human interaction.

So how will businesses move forward?

One pointer for the future comes from  Kevin Ellis, Chairman, PWC who on 20th October 2020 is quoted as saying

“From the messages I get from our people I know that many really value having the option to use an office, whether for a personal or business need. In the longer term it will be important to continue to ensure offices offer people something more than they can get at home, whether it’s working together, innovating or learning. I am sure I’m not alone in wanting this to be the case.”

But not all employers see things the same way and it’s our view that office life will not go back to where it was before the pandemic. Some organisations are already designating employees and long term homeworkers and this trend is likely to continue. Perhaps the term ‘office’ will become obsolete, in favour of ‘workplace’. Businesses will need to re draw what work looks like, and what and where the workplace is. They will need to identify aspects of job roles that can be done at home, and others that would benefit from having people together, at least some of the time. They will need to gather insight into how their employees are responding to the new world.

So as we go through this pandemic, and come out of it, as we surely will, and as future of work emerges, we need to remember that we are inherently social beings and business need to harness the value of social interaction in a way that gives us the best of both worlds. In all of this, one thing is still true – customer and employee experience is everything.

Does your organisation have the skills and insight it needs to navigate its way through this new world?

RealService, like many other businesses has had to pivot our services to meet the needs of our clients during the pandemic, and we have been helping them keep even closer to their end customers.  For landlords, developers and managing agents, this means gaining more insight into the behaviours and emotional needs of employees and finding a way to be part of the solution not the problem.

If you’d like to discuss how you can think differently about the future of your office portfolio, contact:

 

Sue Flatto

Director

RealService

 

+44 203 393 9603

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eerie silence

I ventured into London last week for only the second time since March. There was an eerie silence in the heart of the City of London.  Working from home has sapped the lifeblood out of the financial district. My gut feeling is that we are witnessing a once in a lifetime step change in the way we work. I also think that it’s as futile for office investors to see this is a temporary blip as it was for retail property investors to believe that online shopping would have only a minimal effect on our high streets and shopping centres.

For those whose careers have been built on building offices in the City, it’s only natural to have self-belief in their products. Like me, you’ll have read the interviews which put forward the line that 1. We are social creatures 2. Teams can’t work well when separated 3. Young people need to learn by listening 4. Sandwich bars deserve our support. ….so it’s only a matter of time before the problem goes away and we return to the way things were.

I liken this self-belief to that shown by shopping centre owners who confidently told consumers that there’s no substitute for being able to try on a dress or shoes in store. Meanwhile the percentage of online sales has grown year on year. Retailers saw that the future was multi-channel long before shopping centre owners. For shopping centre owners, being invested in just one channel has proven a scary place to be.

Blended working

Flexible (or blended) working is the workplace equivalent of multi-channel retailing. It recognizes that one solution doesn’t fit all and that each business needs to think through what’s the best blend of workplace solutions for its customers, suppliers and employees. For some businesses that answer could still be the 9 – 5 traditional office but for the majority it will be a blend of office/hotel/cafe/business centre and home working.

Technology is enabling the change in workstyle with high-speed broadband and low-cost software tools like Zoom and Teams making it possible to work from anywhere. Covid-19 has added another reason not to commute to the heart of our cities, but the underlying trend towards flexible working is not new.

If we accept that office real estate’s biggest competitor is now the ability to work from anywhere, then the question for owners is “what can we do to compete?”. At RealService we’re excited by the opportunity to work with our clients to better understand the desired workstyle of employees. We are already seeing a move away for the formulaic and to the creation of a new and exciting range of products and services which give companies and their employees the workstyle they want.

For those financially and emotionally invested in the old model, this will require a transformational change in thinking.

So how ready is your business to change its thinking?

Real estate has a fundamental health problem but how ready are we to face up to this?

We can learn a lot from the Stages of Change model used by the medical professions.

https://rcni.com/hosted-content/rcn/first-steps/stages-of-change-model

The Stages of Change model describes the different stages we go through when we want to change something in our lives. This readily translates into the world of business

  1. Pre-contemplation: This is where we’re not thinking seriously about making a change or we don’t really see it as a problem.
  1. Contemplation: We’re now beginning to think about our business models and we’re beginning to see that maybe there is a problem that’s affecting our long-term business health.
  1. Preparation/determination: By now, we’ve realised that something needs to change, and we’re ready to make changes – but maybe we don’t know exactly how, so we look for help.
  1. Action: We now know what we want to change, we’ve researched how we can change it, and we’ve got a plan to put into action.
  1. Maintenance: We’ve got to a position where we can sustain our new approach
  1. Relapse: we may revert to our old ways when the market begins to strengthen or it just gets too difficult

Where is your business at today?

The starting point for real estate business leaders is to ask where are we today in terms of our readiness for change? It’s time to be honest. Do we have the energy and resolve to change? Do we have the clarity of customer insight and vision to take action?

In this new series of blogs, we’ll look at ten strategies to accelerate your business through the change model.

 

Howard Morgan is Founder & MD RealService, customer experience consultancy

 

www.real-service.co.uk

 

To discuss any of these themes contact Howard at howard.morgan@real-service.co.uk